Next month Bruce Brown will make his first trip to Port au Prince, Haiti, one of a half dozen intrepid West Shore citizens who have committed time and money to dramatically improve safety and sanitation at the Divine Hands orphanage.
Brown, a former staff sergeant with West Shore RCMP, has supported many charities and organizations over the years, including helping his wife raise several thousand dollars for another Haiti orphanage through Strawberry Vale elementary.
He figures it’s time for him to get his hands dirty.
“Even though I’d been involved with fundraising, I felt I needed to go down there, and be out there, and do it myself,” he says. “Not just give money and not just help out from this side of the world. But go down and help physically. I’m fortunate enough I’m still healthy enough that I can go down and pound nails.”
Brown went to New York just days after 9/11 with Langford Fire Chief Bob Beckett and Mayor Stew Young. That was when Brown really got to know the chief, he says.
Beckett has been the driving force behind the projects in Haiti, from the first city-sponsored trip to rebuild the Jesus of Prague orphanage after a devastating earthquake in 2010, to the current plan to go down in September.
“Bob approached me and asked if I’d be interested in helping out,” Brown says. “I thought it was about time I actually went down.”
Rick Fisher of Glenwood Meats in Langford had a similar experience with the fire chief and says he couldn’t say no to Beckett.
“Bob was, and still is, a regular customer of ours,” Fisher says. “Every time he’d come into the meat market, I’d ask how the project was going and mentioned I’d like to help. And he said, ‘anytime you want to come down.’”
Fisher’s first trip was life-changing, he says. “I had an idea how poor the country was, but when I got down there, I was shocked.”
After a half-dozen trips, Fisher says, the initial shock has worn off, but the drive to help is as strong as ever.
“There are still buildings that are a crumbled mess, still people living in shacks, but it’s just amazing what the city of Langford did for those kids living in the orphanage,” he says.
“On my first trip I said to Bob, ‘I went down to Haiti to make a difference,’ but when I came back, I think I changed my life more.”
Beckett and Dan Reynolds, a retired building inspector also with the team, travelled to Haiti earlier this year to assess the site. The initial goals for the Divine Hands orphanage project include installing a safety cover for the current well, providing a roof for the outdoor pit-toilet, building an outdoor cookhouse and installing an exterior solar-powered light for security and safety.
For Brown, the trip is an opportunity for him to give back in a way that a lot of people aren’t able to.
“There are people who want to go, but don’t have the money or the time,” he says. “I felt it was time for me to step up. I’m privileged to be able to go and help out.”
Donations for the project are being accepted through Langford Fire Rescue, the Rotary Club of Colwood and at www.helpforhaiti.ca.